|Sunday, 6 November 2005|
An appeal to Muslim voters
by M. Z. Akbar
Sri Lanka is passing through its most critical decisive and momentous period in her history. The challenges it faces are many and varied.
History has demonstrated that this is not the first time when heroes emerged from Ruhuna to save the country from devastation and destruction and protect its sovereignty. Dutugemunu came from areas adjacent to Tissamaharama with his famous ten warriors.
When serious challenges face a country historical forces produce a hero to meet them. At this critical moment Mahinda Rajapakse has come forward to save the country. He is from an illustrious family of Ruhuna. Mahinda Rajapakse is not a solitary figure in the political firmament of Ruhuna.
His father was Deputy Speaker, his uncle was the famous D. M. Rajapakse, his cousin was George Rajapakse who was Minister of Fisheries, Lakshman Rajapakse was Member of Parliament and his niece, Nirupama Rajapakse was Deputy Minister.
They have been associated with the Freedom Party from its very inception. Therefore there is nothing surprising in Mahinda Rajapakse with his unimpeachable political background of intense loyalty, devotion and patriotism becoming the presidential candidate. He possesses the capacity to crystallise and articulate the sentiments of the resurgent nationalist forces. His vigorous assertion of nationalism should not be misunderstood.
I was born in Matara and was practising as an Advocate at the Matara Bar. I have had the good fortune to know the members of the Rajapakse family fairly intimately for well nigh half a century.
His friendliness towards the Muslims both local and abroad is eloquently manifested in that for a long period of time he has consistently and passionately espoused the cause of the Palestinian Arabs. This was not occasioned by geo-political considerations. It was not an act of political expediency. The Muslims who form a little over eight per cent of the total population of Sri Lanka constitute a significant minority.
Their wide dispersion and particular concentration in select localities have provided them with a critical, even a decisive role in national politics. Two thirds of the Muslim population live in Sinhala areas. The Muslims are second to none in their allegiance and loyalty to Sri Lanka.
The patriotism of the Muslims towards the land of their birth is not a political phenomenon of recent times, it is reflected in the entire freedom struggle of the Muslims through the ages. I may be permitted a faint stir of historical memories, Sir Emerson Tenenant Colonial Secretary in Sri Lanka says that the Arabs fought in the Galleys of Mark Antony against Octavius Caesar in 34 B.C.
The Ceylon Moors fought valiantly with courage, resoluteness an determination against the Portuguese. When Bhuvenaka Bahu was conciliatory towards the Portuguese the Muslims rallied round his brother, the famous warrior Mayadunne and fought in the battle of Gannoruwa Among others.
The Muslim gunners and match lock men made good an important deficiency in the traditional Sinhala war machine. If the combined might of King Rajasinghe of Kandy and the Dutch expelled the Portuguese out of the island in 1636 AD the Ceylon Moors were a great contributory factor.
They even sought the assistance of the Raja Zamorin of Calicut, Two Admirals from his navy Kungi Ali and Kutti Ali to fight against the Portuguese. They also obtained the help of the Ottoman Emperor Sultan Selim to fight the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean.
Sir Mohamed Macan Markar said on the 5th March 1939 "I had no desire then nor do I desire now to see the majority community reduced to the position of a minority". This was in regard to the fifty-fifty campaign Sir Razik Fareed speaking in the State Council in November 1945 supported the acceptance of the white paper on constitutional reforms thus "It was our political sagacity, if I may say so and a sense of justice that made me stand up and fight with the Sinhalese in the course of obtaining dominion status".
In the State council debate on the Soulbury Reforms proposals Dr. T. B. Jayah said "Where the Muslims are concerned it has been the practice in fact it has been considered the duty of Muslims wherever they may find themselves that they should be first and foremost in any movement that is intended to secure for the people of the country a full measure of freedom. The Muslim community as far as it is concerned, will be prepared to work without any safeguards because they know the spell of freedom can obtilerate all differences".
Al Haj Dr. Badi-ud-Din Mahmud presenting the Muslim case in the Constituent Assembly said "Throughout the Muslims on whose behalf I speak today have fought against all divisive tendencies that retard full freedom, they have repudiated all efforts that tend to promote communal disharmony.
To this attitude their geographical distribution and historical experience have no doubt contributed. Therefore, let me state in clear terms that the Muslim community will always oppose strongly any attempt at the division whether directly or indirectly of the country.
Today, the Muslims of Sri Lanka are totally in favour of a Unitary Government and a United Lanka. I would strongly urge in these circumstances that special provisions be included in the new constitution to avoid any such division".
On the 30th of September 1972 a mass meeting of Muslims assembled at the Maradana Mosque Grounds, Colombo to felicitate Madam Sirimavo R. Dias Bandaranaike first Prime Minister of the Republic. I edited a souvenir released on this occasion which states "The Muslims of Sri Lanka pledge their unflinching loyalty to the integrity, indivisibility and sovereignty of the republic and affirm their solidarity with the rest of the nation in marching forward towards achievement of the noble ideals of national unity, democracy, socialism, religious freedom, tolerance and economic progress enshrined in the constitution".
The relationship between the Muslims of Sri Lanka as a minority and the majority Sinhalese is unique and unparalleled in the annals of world history. It has no historic parallel or precedent. From the very beginnings of Sinhala rule in Anuradhapura King Devanampiyatissa gave them special quarters for trade. When the Portuguese oppressed the Muslims they turned to King Mayadunne for help and he gave them lands in Puttalam to settle down.
When the Dutch persecuted the Muslims we turned to King Senarat for help and he gave them land in the Eastern Province to settle down. This cordiality towards the Muslims by the Sinhalese is referred to by Ibn Batuta. The Sri Lankan Moors are an ancient community whose earliest arrivals goes far back as 5000 BC. According to Professor Sunderalingam who was Professor of Mathematics and a Member of the Indian Civil Service. This is supported by Paranavitana and Professor Nilkantha Sastri the greatest historian of India.
The Sri Lankan Moors are so much a part of this country that they are as indigenous as its very rocks and its fauna and flora. Dr. Balendra supporting the theory of Sir Emerson Tennent says that the Sri Lankan Moors were here as natives of Sri Lanka. He is just as much a native as a Sinhalese or a Veddah because he is here for the last two thousand years.
Mr. Donald Obeysekera refers to Edirisi who writing in 1154 said that the sovereign of Sri Lanka had four Muslim Ministers in his council. M. D. Raghavan refers to Meera Lebbe as the Minister of King Vijaybahu (V). Unlike the territories under western rule in Sri Lanka the Muslims in the Kandyan areas were enjoying freedom of worship and economic activities were untrammelled.
The Sinhalese historical chronicles do not record even a single instance of any tank, Vihare, Dagoba or temple destroyed by the Muslims. There is no bitterness or animosity between the Sinhalese and the Muslims. We inherit a historic legacy of peace, harmony and tranquillity.
This relationship is further strengthened and reinforced by ties of blood. The Arabs who settled in Sinhala areas did not bring their wives with them. They inter married with the Sinhala people a process that has lasted thousands of years. His Highness Aga Khan said at Zahira College in 1936 that the Muslims were Sinhalese by race and Muslims by religion.
Their fortunes are intimately and inextricably bound with the Sinhala people. The Muslims of Sri Lanka have stated their political case with moderation, sobriety and restraint. They have not resorted to strikes, agitation or trade union action. The Muslims have depended on the sweet reasonableness of the Sinhala people.
The Muslims have not made any fantastic or extravagant demands. They do not stand for the division of the country in any form, no do they support or encourage separatist tendencies.
A presidential candidate has emerged for the first time from the deep South of Ruhuna. His main support base is from the Sinhala people. There are more than twenty Sinhala parties supporting Mahinda Rajapakse.
The Muslims must not isolate themselves from the main stream of Sinhala Buddhist politics, they must not take up any political position that would hurt the feelings and susceptibilities of the Sinhala people. They must always be mindful of this because they live scattered and interspersed among the Sinhala people.
The most elaborate constitutional safeguards enshrined in the Constitution is nothing compared to winning the eternal goodwill, the abiding love and the enduring affection of the Sinhala people. Mahinda Rajapakse is not a communalist, a racist or a chauvinist. Neither is he an extremist. He is courteous, friendly and amiable. He has a dignified simplicity and humility.
He patiently listens to varying points of view. He is accessible and mixes freely with the people. He embodies in his person not only the traditional goodwill of the Sinhala rulers and people for more than two thousand years but also the spirit that sustains, stirs and animates democracy.
The Muslims must extend substantial support to Mahinda Rajapakse. He will be not only just, fair and equitable but be magnificent towards the Muslims.
Produced by Lake House